Wine Pairings for Upland Birds and Small Game

Whether grilled, fried or baked, pair your next small game recipe with the perfect glass of wine.

Wine Pairings for Upland Birds and Small Game
Wine Pairings for Upland Birds and Small Game (Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley photo)
Print Recipe

Upland birds and small game include both light and dark meats. Species such as pheasant, quail and wild turkey are on the lighter side of the spectrum while dove and grouse have redder meat. While many of us are used to frying or grilling these birds and downing them with beer, all these meats can be paired with wine, too. Here's my take on it.

Pheasant, Quail & Wild Turkey

Pheasant, quail and turkey are considered light meat. If you do any gun dog training or enjoy hunting in controlled shooting areas, partridge (chukar) will fall in this category as well.

These birds are mild and lean. And much like chicken, they will easily take up whatever spices and flavors you apply to them. So when choosing a wine, I suggest that you pay more attention to how you cooked the bird rather than the bird itself. Depending on what other ingredients you use in your dish, your wine will need to stand up to those flavors as well.

A sweeter wine is generally recommended for heavily spiced Asian dishes, such as spicy Indian curries, Chinese stir-fry or acidic Thai food. Some of my favorite dishes include pheasant pad Thai, turkey pot stickers, pheasant butter chicken, and fried quail with sweet and sour sauce. The sweetness and fruity flavors in German Riesling or Gewürztraminer or a fruity rosé are ideal choices as they are able to offset the salty, spicy and sour flavors prevalent in Asian cuisine. If you fancy some bubbly, the touch of sweetness in Italian Prosecco is also an excellent choice.


But there will be times when you don't want to go too sweet. Some of the dishes I've made with these birds have been on the creamier, richer side. Who hasn't had pheasant in tarragon cream sauce? Or pheasant in mushroom cream sauce? These are classic recipes, and you will need a wine that is zestier, slightly drier and crisp to complement the fattiness of these types of dishes. Choose chardonnay, pinot gris/pinot grigio, chenin blanc, viognier or sauvignon blanc.


I generally stick with white wine when serving these birds, but there are some recipes that do call for more full-bodied reds. If you choose to marinade or baste your meat with a dark, heavier sauce – such as BBQ sauce, char siu, chipotle, tandoori spices – you may want a more robust wine than white. Then when you grill or roast meat, you add the element of fire, which slightly chars the meat or if not, it at least adds a smoky layer of flavor. For smoked, grilled and/or marinated birds, try pinot noir, granache/granacha blends, malbec, shiraz or zinfandel.

For heavier dishes that are tomato- or wine-based and have some acidity, such as wild turkey meatballs with red sauce or stew-like pheasant coq au vin, choose a soft red such as merlot, sangiovese (Chianti) or if you have the money, Burgundy.

Dove & Grouse

Birds such as dove and grouse, on the other hand, have darker meat. I generally don't like to overcomplicate these meats by adding too many flavors to them. They are already flavorful – a bit gamy, and I prefer to let them stand on their own.

Like a good steak, a simple sprinkling of salt and pepper is all these birds need – the doves plucked whole and grouse breasted out; save grouse legs for later to braise, make soup or broth. Sometimes I add a bit of herbes de Provence and Hungarian paprika. Finally, I sear them on the grill or in a pan with a bit of oil to medium rare.


Keep in mind that some grouse species have darker, more gamy meat than others, so choose the wine that best fits your palate. I think darker, full-bodied wines that exhibit black fruit flavors are good foils for these darker birds: merlot (lighter), zinfandel, malbec, syrah, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon or petite sirah (bolder) are good choices.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Fare Game: Stuffed Elk Backstrap

Fare Game: Stuffed Elk Backstrap

Take your venison loin to a whole new level with this delicious reverse-seared stuffed elk backstrap. Smoking the backstrap on a Camp Chef Woodwind pellet grill first, then finishing it on a blazing-hot skillet or flattop, creates a perfectly cooked, medium-rare steak with a crispy, seared exterior. The filling of diced mushrooms and creamy Boursin cheese adds a whole new level of amazing flavors to an otherwise classic smoked venison loin.

Camp Chef at SHOT Show: Elk Venison Slider Burgers Recipe

Camp Chef at SHOT Show: Elk Venison Slider Burgers Recipe

Have a freezer full of ground elk venison from your fall hunting trips? Never fear, the folks at Camp Chef have a great SHOT Show recipe that is lean and mean, easy to prepare, and a crowd-pleasing favorite!

Top Ten Hunts

Top Ten Hunts

Here at Petersen's Hunting we have compiled the 10 best hunts caught on camera from the last 2 years of Petersen's Hunting TV. Enjoy!

.500 S&W vs. the King of the Beasts

.500 S&W vs. the King of the Beasts

Smith & Wesson's Tony Miele and host Kevin Steele track an African lion across the Kalahari for the ultimate handgun showdown with the King of the Beasts.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

The outdoor industry gets serious about recruiting new hunters with some curious marketing strategies. Conservation

Are New Hunter Recruitment Strategies Working?

Andrew McKean - May 05, 2020

The outdoor industry gets serious about recruiting new hunters with some curious marketing...

Learn how to grill the perfect medium-rare venison steak with these tips and tricks. Recipes

Venison Grilling Tips

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Learn how to grill the perfect medium-rare venison steak with these tips and tricks.

Is lever action dead? Not by a long shot. Guns

The Return of Lever Action Rifles

Craig Boddington - May 26, 2020

Is lever action dead? Not by a long shot.

Since the first explorers and pilgrims landed, the inhabitants of this glorious country have been Shooting

7 Favorite Truck Guns

Joseph von Benedikt - May 11, 2015

Since the first explorers and pilgrims landed, the inhabitants of this glorious country have...

See More Trending Articles

More Recipes

Meet the meat snack that's better than beef jerky. Recipes

Preserving Meat: How to Make South African Biltong

David Draper

Meet the meat snack that's better than beef jerky.

This apple-rosemary roulade recipe brings a variety of different flavors to traditionally light and lean wild turkey. Recipes

Apple-Rosemary Wild Turkey Roulade Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

This apple-rosemary roulade recipe brings a variety of different flavors to traditionally...

Andy Moeckel reimagines wild game with his Flip Flop technique. Recipes

The Flip Flop Method for Cooking a Deer Quarter

Joe Ferronato

Andy Moeckel reimagines wild game with his Flip Flop technique.

It only takes 30 minutes to make this Eggs in Purgatory Recipe. Recipes

Camp Breakfast Recipe: Eggs in Purgatory

David Draper

It only takes 30 minutes to make this Eggs in Purgatory Recipe.

See More Recipes

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Petersen's Hunting subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now